Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
NEWARK, N.J. – Winning Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals did more than keep the New Jersey Devils alive.
It gave them a sniff, a scent, a feeling. Call it momentum if you want.
For one game, Martin Brodeur and the Eastern Conference champions showed they could not only play with the Los Angeles Kings, they could beat them, too.
The 3-1 win in Los Angeles on Wednesday prevented the Kings’ coronation ceremony and forced the NHL to pack the Cup and ship it back to New Jersey for Game 5 Saturday night.
Now comes the hard part for coach Peter DeBoer and the Devils. They have to follow it up with another win over a team that has posted a 15-3 mark in the postseason and hasn’t lost consecutive games.
If New Jersey can somehow find a way, though, the Cup will be up for grabs.
“We know every time we can win a game and chip away, the end goal gets a little closer,” DeBoer said Thursday shortly after the Devils’ flight from the West Coast landed. “I know it is a cliché, but I think if we win on Saturday night this series really takes a turn.”
Kings coach Darryl Sutter felt his team played better on Wednesday than it did in winning Game 2 in New Jersey.
However, Brodeur stood tall, got help on two shots off the goalpost, and rookie Adam Henrique scored a great goal late in the third period to put New Jersey ahead.
“That’s why you play the series,” Sutter said. “Unfortunately, we have some spoiled people that think that everyone wins 16 in a row or something. A little confusing to me.”
The Kings have been in this position before on this road to what could be the franchise’s first title since joining the league in 1967.
They won three in a row over top-seeded Vancouver in the opening round, lost Game 4 at home and clinched the series on the road, where the team is an NHL-record 10-0 in this postseason.,
After sweeping second-seeded St. Louis in the second round, the eighth-seeded Kings followed the same formula in the Western Conference finals, taking the first three games from third-seeded Phoenix, losing a possible clincher at home and then nailing down their first trip to the Cup finals since 1993 in Game 5.
It would be appropriate if they raised their first Cup on Saturday, but the Devils stand in the way.
And this is a confident group.
“Elimination games, I don’t know, the teams you play against are there for a reason,” Los Angeles forward Justin Williams said Thursday. “It’s not supposed to be a sweep all the time. You’re not supposed to win every game. That’s when their character comes out, when their backs are against the wall. They played a great game, battled hard. We just didn’t quite have enough.”
The Devils felt the same way each time they lost a game. They lost the first two games in overtime in New Jersey and were satisfied with their effort in Game 3 despite being beaten 4-0.
With a bounce or two, the Devils feel they could be up 3-1.
On the flight back to New Jersey, DeBoer said his team had the same confidence it has shown throughout the playoffs. They were even-keeled and looking forward to Saturday.
When asked if the Devils suddenly had a glimmer of hope, Henrique the team simply won a game it had to win.
“We know within the room we have the personnel to complete this comeback,” said Henrique, who scored the series clinching goals in overtime against Florida in Game 7 and the Rangers in Game 6.
“There are a lot of people out there that don’t think we can do it, but it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks; it matters what we think in the room,” Henrique said. “We have to string together four in a row, and every game is do or die. Every game is Game 7 for us, and we have the confidence in the room we can do it. It will be tough, but we are prepared to do it.”
In winning Game 4, the Devils showed they finally could get some pucks past Jonathan Quick. They scored two in the first three games and got three in the third period Wednesday, with Ilya Kovalchuk icing the contest with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
The best-of-7 series continues to be close-checking with neither team getting very many shots on goal. The teams combined for 46 in Game 4.
“We know their strengths; we know their weaknesses,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said. “I’m sure they’re doing the same. It’s going to be interesting game, a game of inches.”
And if the Devils win, the tension is bound to rise.
“We’re still in a hole right now,” Devils veteran forward Dainius Zubrus said. “We’re taking it one game at a time. We’re hoping to win the next.”